My Saturday night destination, the reason I'm cruising L.A.'s old manufacturing district, a few wrong turns from skid row, is a pub. That's the word, anyway. I cross the 7th Street bridge, turn right on Mateo and left onto Industrial, my car thudding over rutted streets and past enough razor wire to secure Alcatraz. A homeless man makes better time on foot, pushing his worldly possessions in a grocery cart.
I park, walk up the steps and through heavy wood doors. The first thing I see is my reflection in a giant Gothic-style mirror I later learn is from a 19th century church. The place is practically empty. Not a comforting sign at 7 p.m. I pull up a stool and barkeep Stephanie asks if there's anything I don't like, a loaded question if ever I heard one. Her suggestion, a pomegranate margarita, quenches nicely and gives me time to take in the scene.
The pub is Royal Claytons. It's tucked away in the Arts District's Toy Factory Lofts, where architects, actors and designers reside and mega-selling jeans company True Religion has its international sales office. If living here requires a hip quotient, I'd be lucky to snag a visitor's pass. But for all that, Royal Claytons, designed by developer and former celebrity decorator Dana Hollister, casts a warm and welcoming glow.
Hollister imbued the factory space with an aged look by using salvage from the city's demolished buildings. Gleaming steel drawers, mounted behind the bar and lined with glassware, look like wall art. Muscular ebony columns give weight to the room, while stained-glass windows line the walls' upper reaches. The soundtrack, hits of the '60s and '70s, is more white noise than party playlist. The Doobie Brothers, the Yardbirds, Jackson Browne. Jimi Hendrix practically chides the few of us here: "Crosstown traffic/All you do is slow me down/And I got better things on the other side of town."
At 8 p.m., the place begins to hum. I retreat to a window table and notice several parties taking shape, with a lively game of pool underway beyond the bar. This pub, like the lofts above it, is mostly the domain of a 20s-to-early-40s crowd, though it doesn't feel exclusive. If it were drizzly outside, I'd think I was in Portland's cool Pearl District, which is jammed with bustling restaurants and stylish lofts that a dozen years ago were vacant breweries and warehouses.
Royal Claytons, named for co-owner Brian Lenzo's great-grandfather, Royal Carson Parmer, and late friend Clayton Bleavins, could help spark the same transformation here. Since opening three months ago as the lofts' community watering hole, the pub has become a lunch destination for City Hall and Parker Center crowds and a magnet for curiosity seekers from beyond, like tonight's birthday crowd from Pasadena.
"They come for the food," my waiter says. That would be the eclectic American comfort food, and I'll see for myself, thanks. My companion and I start with the pumpkin soup, work our way through most of a lyonnaise salad of frisee with bacon and poached egg and then tackle mussels with andouille sausage, a peppercorn filet of beef and eggplant parmesan. Had we the need for any more comfort, it would be the milk and baked cookies. If we lived here, they could be sent to our loft, room-service style.
Now it's a little past 9. The noise level has risen considerably, and the place is jumping. If I'd known, I'd have planned accordingly, stuck around for the DJ, ordered the Angus burger, had one of a dozen beers on draft, made a dent in the boutique wine list. . . .
Next time. By then, the doors will have opened on a French bistro across the street and an English beer garden a few blocks away. I'll just follow the rutted streets.
Some things, I think, will never change.
Royal Claytons, 1855 Industrial St., Los Angeles, (213) 622-0512; www.royalclaytonspub.com. Monday-Friday 7 a.m.-2 a.m. and Saturday-Sunday 11 a.m to 2 a.m.